Monday, January 30, 2012

Now is the Time for Bold Leadership

America's public schools in the 21st Century have an unclear future. Never before in our nation's history have they been subjected to such scrutiny and ridicule. They are the targets of criticism from across the political spectrum, and their relevance is being questioned.

School leaders are caught in between, supporting their institutions and trying to make improvements. The challenge is to make change within systems where change is challenging.

Although our system is comfortable and remembered fondly by previous generations, bold change leaders are needed. Complaining about the absurdity of high stakes testing, penalties, and competition does not accomplish anything on behalf of our students.

I see some school administrators trying to polish the edges of our old system rather than leading their districts with bold initiatives. Now is the time for action. We need to embrace the concepts of 21st Century learning. We need to train our faculties in best practices and utilize the new research emerging on how the brain learns. We need to bring modern technologies to bear in accomplishing our aims. And we must move the system toward a new horizon.

When we make the necessary changes and improvements, the worth of public schools will be redeemed.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

To Control Technology or Unleash It

Is this technology thing getting out of control such that schools need to start taking more aggressive steps to combat it? Starting Monday (January 30, 2012), Pottstown Middle School in suburban Philadelphia is banning the wearing of fuzzy open-top boots to middle school classes because students have been stashing cell phones in the loose footwear.

Or, is this why some schools are embracing new technologies in the classrooms?

The students know what their world is like now. They also may have a better idea of what their future holds than some schools are willing to recognize or admit. The future includes everyone carrying his or her device. That device is a mobile telephone and electronic wallet with information access and data storage. The students are ready for that future now, and most schools are not.

If schools are going to maintain their relevance in the preparation of our children for their futures, they need to find ways to connect with the kids. This includes embracing electronic technologies which may be uncomfortable to the teachers but are essential to the students.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Good Employee Evaluation is not Formal Evaluation

It may very well be that maybe the best employee evaluations have no formal evaluation procedures at all. Performance improvement should be about relationships and communication rather than documents.

Right now there is a lot of national criticism of the education profession alleging that incompetents are allowed to continue practicing. There is growing public demand for more stringent evaluation procedures for educators, with the thinking that stronger evaluation systems will create stronger employees. So state legislatures are getting into the act and trying to define how evaluations should take place.

Let's face it: if it were possible for quality to be legislated, we would have done it years ago, and we would not be concerned with it now.

The problem with the concept of evaluation as it is defined by code and implemented in practice is that it inherently becomes a negative process. Supervisors must keep score on a secret tally sheet and reveal their findings at a given time when the summative evaluation takes place.

What is missing from this concept is the on-going communication and coaching that should be taking place between the evaluator and his or her charge. In the classrooms, instructors teach and communicate with students on a daily basis so those students will be successful by the conclusion of the class. On the sports field, coaches do not silently watch their athletes only to set an appointment to later review their mistakes. Teaching and coaching are dependent upon open and constant communication.

The key to making this system effective is to develop a climate of trust and open communication where all parties understand that everyone's goal is to make the school as effective and successful as possible for the students. Certainly there can be a place for an annual review. But let the annual performance conference be about setting challenging goals for the growth of each individual and setting up personal learning plans to help the educator achieve those goals.

Let's make evaluation about getting better rather than finding fault.

Image creator: David Castillo Dominici

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Are You an Evangelist for 21st Century Learning?

"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results." We are not sure who first said this, but we agree it makes sense.

We are guilty of this in education. Our calendar is based upon the agrarian cycle of the 1700's, and our secondary school structure is based on the industrial model of the 1800's. The students sit in the desks facing and listening to the teacher for nine months. And if they follow this process and all the rules for 13 straight years, the students get a high school diploma. The length of the days remains the same. The length of the year remains the same. Then some reformers decide that taking some time from this process for some more testing or spreading salary dollars around will make the difference.

But now in the year 2012, we stand at the opportunity for a new era to begin. We can retain what has been largely successful over the years and apply the power of modern technology to change what is happening in our classrooms on a daily basis. Students can use technology tools to connect to resources around the world. They can seek out their own knowledge and guide their own discovery. We need only to create the student-centered instructional model and give our students the technology tools to realize this vision for our future, focusing on the 21st Century skills of critical thinking, communication, creativity, and collaboration.

Among my concerns, the readers of this blog will likely be the people I communicate with regularly and who see this vision for a better future. But now we need to take this message main stream. Are you an evangelist for this movement?

Some call my dear friend and colleague John Carver (@johnccarver) an evangelist because he is out front leading the call. We, the people who "get it" and are reading this message, need to get the word out. Make this vision part of our professional discussion when we have meetings. Take the time to attend the seminars and read the resources on the networks. Connect with your colleagues. Bring back what you learn and pass on this concept you believe in.

This is no longer a separate add-on to education. This is the future. Be a part of the change we seek for our children.